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Perlmutter Cancer Center Names New Director of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology

Paul E. Oberstein, MD, a nationally renowned clinician-scientist, will join NYU Langone Health and its Perlmutter Cancer Center, New York, N.Y., as Director of Gastrointestinal (GI) Medical Oncology and Assistant Director of its recently established Pancreatic Cancer Center.

Figure

Figure

Paul E. Oberstein, MD

Paul E. Oberstein, MD

Prior to his new post at NYU Langone, Oberstein was a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University, Assistant Professor at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, and an attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

Oberstein's recruitment marks an exciting expansion in innovative and potentially practice-changing clinical trials research in GI cancers at Perlmutter Cancer Center. His research focuses on the design and implementation of translational studies that apply novel laboratory concepts to patients. His recent work includes biomarker research to understand the immune microenvironment of cancer cells, investigation of a new imaging method for detecting pancreatic tumors, and testing new combinations of chemotherapy and immunotherapy in advanced pancreas cancer patients.

Oberstein also will see patients and expedite the progression of laboratory studies and research on all types of GI cancers to clinical practice.

“In 2018, for the first time, GI cancers will cause more cancer deaths in the U.S. than any other organ system,” said Benjamin G. Neel, MD, PhD, Director of Perlmutter Cancer Center. “Dr. Oberstein's experience in designing clinical trials for these cancers and his expertise in bringing basic research findings to the patient's bedside strengthen our already formidable GI cancer research team.”

“Research already under way at Perlmutter Cancer Center in GI cancers not only can be applied to patients immediately, but also furthers our understanding of these cancers, which will lead to future patient applications,” Oberstein noted. “Its commitment to aligning research and clinical practice makes this, indeed, the perfect place for what I do—which is to try to bring these two areas of medicine together to make a difference for our patients now and in the future.”

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New Scientists & Researchers Join City of Hope

Jianjun Chen, PhD, joins the Beckman Research Institute of City of Hope as Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Systems Biology. Previously, Chen served as Associate Professor of Cancer Biology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine after moving from University of Chicago.

Jianjun Chen, PhD

Jianjun Chen, PhD

Chen is a scholar of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (2017) and Researcher of the Year, and recipient of the Pamela B. Katten Memorial Leukemia Research Foundation Award (2014). Chen is a permanent member of the NIH Developmental Therapeutics study section and his research program is currently supported by four R01 grants from the NCI.

Andrea Bild, PhD, now serves as Professor in the Division of Molecular Pharmacology within the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research. She comes to City of Hope from the University of Utah, where she was Associate Professor and Director of Genome Sciences. Bild's research program uses large-scale translational genomic and pharmacological studies to interrogate and treat tumor heterogeneity and evolution to refractory states. She has led multiple collaborative groups with the goal of characterizing and treating cancer.

Andrea Bild, PhD

Andrea Bild, PhD

As a member of the NCI's Cancer Systems Biology Consortium and principal investigator of multi-institutional grants, her team focuses on the development and application of multi-omic tools in the clinic for cancer prevention and treatment. With clinician collaborators, Bild's team has initiated and carried out multiple clinical trials that use systems biology and genomic characterization of patient tumors to prevent cancer resistance and progression.

Michael Kahn, PhD, has joined City of Hope as Professor and Associate Chair in the Department of Molecular Medicine. Previously, he worked at the University of Southern California, where he was the first appointed Provost Professor, with joint appointments in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Keck School of Medicine and the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Toxicology in the School of Pharmacy. He was also the co-leader of the GI-Oncology Program at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, as well as the Center for Drug Discovery and Development at USC.

Michael Kahn, PhD

Michael Kahn, PhD

Kahn's research program is focused on the integration of basic science with translational medicine. His lab utilizes a forward chemical genomic strategy to identify and validate novel pharmacologic tools to study complex signaling pathways in development and disease. Utilizing a proprietary chemical library, his lab identified the first specific CBP/β-catenin antagonist ICG-001, which has been fundamental in studies involving both normal somatic stem cell and cancer stem cell biology. From a translational perspective, these studies led to the development of the second-generation CBP/β-catenin antagonist, Wnt modulating drug, PRI-724. These efforts resulted in the clinical trials of PRI-724 in colon and pancreatic cancer, leukemia, and liver fibrosis.

Nora Heisterkamp, PhD, is Professor in the Department of Systems Biology. Prior to City of Hope she was at the University of Southern California, where she was Professor of Pediatrics and Pathology in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Nora Heisterkamp, PhD

Nora Heisterkamp, PhD

Heisterkamp is a pioneer in cancer genetics and uncovered the structure of the Philadelphia chromosome (Ph). After graduating, she joined the lab of John Stephenson, first at the Laboratory of Viral Carcinogenesis, a division of the NCI. Together with lab partner John Groffen, PhD, Heisterkamp identified the chromosomal translocation breakpoint of the Ph chromosome characteristic of chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and Ph+ acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

She cloned and named the Breakpoint Cluster Region (BCR) gene and subsequently demonstrated that the BCR and ABL1 genes are rearranged in CML to form the BCR-ABL1 oncogene in Ph+ leukemias. The first BCR-ABL1 transgenic mouse model, generated by Heisterkamp, demonstrated that BCR-ABL1 is indeed the causative genetic lesion in Ph+ leukemias.

Heisterkamp is a permanent member of the NIH Tumor Microenvironment Study Section. Her studies are supported by two R01 grants from the NCI.

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AMA Presents Government Service Award to NIH Director

The American Medical Association (AMA) presented Michael M. Gottesman, MD, Deputy Director for Intramural Research at the NIH, with the Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service. Gottesman was selected for the AMA's top government service award for his contributions to public health, medical science, and the training of physician-scientists.

Michael M. Gottesman, MD

Michael M. Gottesman, MD

Gottesman was one of six honorees chosen this year to receive the Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service. The award, named after the founding father of the AMA, recognizes elected and career officials in federal, state, or municipal service whose outstanding contributions have promoted the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.

“As a research scientist at NIH, Dr. Gottesman initiated high-profile studies on drug resistance in cancer that have had a national impact on cancer research,” said AMA Board Chair Gerald E. Harmon, MD. “Dr. Gottesman's groundbreaking research identified a human gene that causes cancer cells to resist many anticancer drugs, and he has empowered a generation of clinical investigators to test his theories and impact the lives of numerous patients.”

Since becoming Deputy Director for NIH's Intramural Research Program in 1993, Gottesman has also initiated many organizational changes to help strengthen the scientific community. Notably, he helped improve NIH training and mentoring programs for students at high school through post-graduate levels, conceived strategies that encourage women and minorities to participate in the sciences, and developed programs that improve diversity in the scientific workforce.

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Winship Names Director of New Center for Cancer Immunology

Madhav V. Dhodapkar, MBBS, an expert in cancer immunology and translational immunotherapy, will join Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University, Atlanta, as the Director of the new Winship Center for Cancer Immunology. He will be appointed as the Anise McDaniel Brock Chair and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Cancer Innovation, and Professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology in the Emory School of Medicine.

Madhav V. Dhodapkar, MBBS

Madhav V. Dhodapkar, MBBS

For the past decade, Dhodapkar has served as Chief of Hematology, the Arthur H. and Isabel Bunker Professor of Medicine (Hematology), and Professor of Immunobiology at Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Conn. An expert in the treatment of multiple myeloma, he also was Co-Director of the Cancer Immunology Program within the Yale Cancer Center.

“The arrival of Dr. Dhodapkar at Winship Cancer Institute signals our commitment to the growing cancer immunotherapy research space,” said Walter J. Curran, Jr., MD, Winship's Executive Director. “He will be a transformative Winship leader in this realm.”

Dhodapkar is credited with helping define the role of the immune system in controlling early cancer cells. His research focuses on how the immune system regulates the progression from precursor lesions to cancer, as well as the mechanisms of treatment sensitivity and resistance to cancer immunotherapy.

“I have known Dr. Dhodapkar for over 15 years, and his work in immune profiling and immunobiology in cancer is at a world-class level. We are incredibly excited to bring him, his lab, and his expertise to Winship where he will lead a growing cancer immunotherapy program,” said Sagar Lonial, MD, Chair of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology and Winship's Chief Medical Officer.

Prior to Yale, Dhodapkar served on the faculty at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and The Rockefeller University in New York. He has authored more than 100 scientific papers and is a prior recipient of several awards, including the NIH Director's Transformative Research Award and the NCI Outstanding Investigator Award in 2016.

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Colorectal Cancer Alliance Awards Funds for Research

National nonprofit Colorectal Cancer Alliance will invest $125,000 in innovative, peer-reviewed research by Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center's Benjamin Weinberg, MD, as part of its Chris4Life Research Program, which funds research in young-onset colorectal cancer and other areas. With Alliance funding, Weinberg will be among the first to study differences in the colon microbiota in younger and older patients with colorectal cancer.

Benjamin Weinberg, MD

Benjamin Weinberg, MD

Researchers increasingly believe microbiota has influence over human homeostasis and disease. Finding a link between changes in colon microbiota and colorectal cancer in young patients will guide future research in both preventative screening and treatment for young-onset colorectal cancer patients.

“Cancer doesn't care how old you are, but we do,” said Michael Sapienza, CEO of Colorectal Cancer Alliance. “The Alliance has committed to investing $3 million for young-onset colorectal cancer research over 3 years. We are defying and redefining the odds. We are changing the face of this disease.”

Over the 2-year term of the research project, Weinberg will also explore the impact of diet on colon microbiota and its potential effect on the development of colorectal cancer. “A leading theory for why rates of colorectal cancer are increasing in younger patients relates to lifestyle factors, including diet and exercise,” said Weinberg, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine. “Also, increasing evidence shows that bacteria and local inflammation of the colon can drive cancer growth. With the help of this grant from Colorectal Cancer Alliance, our research can help explore these theories that could lead to potential ways of mitigating risk.”

The Chris4Life Research Program was established in 2010 and to date has committed over $1 million to innovative and life-saving research. The grant to Weinberg is the first peer-reviewed award from the program, which used a grant-selection process similar to that of the NIH. Research proposals were reviewed by members of a distinguished scientific review panel.

“Dr. Weinberg's proposed research is novel, innovative, and highly interesting, and he will be well-supported by the team at Georgetown Lombardi Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancers,” said Christopher Lieu, MD, co-chair of the Chris4Life Research Program's Scientific Review Panel. “We look forward to results that will yield advances in the field of young-onset colorectal cancer research.”

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UNC Lineberger Expert Leads Bladder Cancer Task Force

UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center's Matthew Milowsky, MD, has been elected as co-chair of the Bladder Cancer Task Force of the NCI's Genitourinary Cancers Steering Committee. His term will run through February 2021.

Matthew Milowsky, MD

Matthew Milowsky, MD

The Genitourinary Cancer Steering Committee is charged with promoting the best clinical and translational research for patients with genitourinary cancers. It oversees three task forces (bladder, prostate, and renal), which review and provide feedback on disease-specific issues and strategic priorities.

Milowsky is the Co-Director of the Urologic Oncology Program and Section Chief of Genitourinary Oncology at UNC Lineberger and Associate Professor in Medicine at UNC School of Medicine.

In addition to his clinical responsibilities, Milowsky conducts clinical and translational research, with a particular interest in the design of clinical trials that utilize novel immunotherapies as well as those that use an integrated genomics approach to guide new therapies.

“Matt is an incredibly talented clinician and clinical researcher. The experience and insight he brings to the task force are based on patient care and his grasp of modern science. He will help shape the national research priorities for bladder cancer, hoping to advance cure rates and quality of life for a disease that afflicts many,” said UNC Lineberger Director Shelton Earp, MD. “This is a well-deserved recognition of Matt's contributions to advancing the care of bladder cancer patients and our knowledge of the disease. His appointment will benefit patients here in North Carolina and across the country.”

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UCLA Scientists Awarded $3.1M Grant From NIH

UCLA researchers Leonard Marks, MD, and Shyam Natarajan, PhD, will lead a $3.1 million research project grant awarded by the NIH to advance the adoption of a promising new technology to treat men with prostate cancer.

Leonard Marks, MD

Leonard Marks, MD

Shyam Natarajan, PhD

Shyam Natarajan, PhD

By helping to increase the widespread use of the technique, known as MRI-guided focal laser ablation, the research has the potential to vastly improve treatment options and outcomes for patients with the disease.

Marks is Professor and deKernion Endowed Chair of Urology at the David Geffen School of Medicine and a UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center member. The project team includes Shyam Natarajan, PhD, Adjunct Assistant professor of Urology, Surgery, and Bioengineering at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UCLA.

Sub-investigators are Jim Hu, MD, Professor of Urology at Weill Cornell Medical, and Geoffrey Sonn, MD, Assistant Professor of Urology and Radiology at Stanford Health Care. Both Hu and Sonn became familiar with the new technology while faculty and fellow, respectively, in the Urology Department at UCLA.

The 5-year research project will build upon previous work led by Marks and Natarajan at UCLA that demonstrated for the first time that focal laser ablation—the precise application of heat via laser to a tumor—could be safe and feasible when used in a clinical setting. Historically, prostate cancer has been treated with surgery and radiation, which can result in serious side effects such as erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.

“Focal laser ablation provides a middle ground for men to choose between radical prostatectomy and active surveillance, for example, as an alternative between doing nothing and losing the prostate,” Marks said. “This is a new and exciting concept for prostate cancer treatment; that a man walking into a clinic with prostate cancer and an hour or two later, walking out without prostate cancer, is not a pipe dream. We've seen it happen.”

For the new research project, Marks' team will develop and assess a technology experience that would allow widespread clinical adoption of focal laser ablation to treat prostate cancer. It will include the creation and testing of each system's technical component, followed by a multi-institution validation study in men with intermediate-risk prostate cancer both before and after treatment to assess effectiveness.

Treatment with focal laser ablation is not yet approved for use in prostate cancer by the FDA. Successful completion of the project would lead to a safe, effective, economical system for clinic-based treatment of prostate cancer with minimal side effects available to tens of thousands of men every year, said Marks.

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Pancreatic Cancer Researcher Joins Fox Chase Cancer Biology Program

Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia recently welcomed Paul Campbell, PhD, as Assistant Professor in the Cancer Biology Program. He is an award-winning researcher and academic instructor who comes to Fox Chase from the Drexel University College of Medicine, where he led his own lab focusing on cancer cell signaling. The Campbell lab studied cell systems, with a particular interest in tumorigenesis driven by the activation of the proto-oncogene KRAS. He has earned multiple clinical/translational grants and awards for work on cancer signaling, progression, and metastasis.

Paul Campbell, PhD

Paul Campbell, PhD

At Fox Chase, Campbell's research will continue to focus on the signaling that drives cancer progression, invasion, and metastasis, with the overall objective of discovering and validating new targets for drug development and finding novel biomarkers for earlier detection and therapeutic monitoring.

In his prior position, Campbell collaborated on tumor microenvironment studies with Edna Cukierman, PhD, co-leader of the Marvin and Concetta Greenberg Pancreatic Cancer Research Institute at Fox Chase. That collaboration will continue and strengthen with both researchers at the same institution.

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Global Research Study Initiated for Patients With Rare Form of Cancer

The Addario Lung Cancer Medical Institute (ALCMI), Champions Oncology, and the ROS1ders announce the commencement of a global study to understand and treat certain genomic mutations found across different types of cancer.

The study is developing patient-derived xenografts (PDX) models for ROS1-fusion driven cancers to understand what drives tumor formation, therapeutic response, and acquired resistance to enable the development of new and more effective therapies against this under-studied molecular subset of cancer.

ROS1-positive patients may contribute part of their tumor biopsy. Researchers are asking physicians to inform their patients about this opportunity to help improve treatments and hopefully survival for others with this cancer mutation.

“When you get a diagnosis like metastatic lung cancer, it is easy to feel hopeless and helpless,” said Tori Tomalia, a ROS1 lung cancer patient. “By joining up with other ROS1ders, we have empowered ourselves with our shared knowledge. The Global ROS1 Initiative takes it even further by actually moving the needle on the research and hopefully impacting our own survival.”

The ALCMI-006 ROS1 PDX Study is the most recent effort driving The Global ROS1 Initiative, which focuses on improving outcomes for this uncommon yet clinically important oncogene-driven cancer. PDX models are developed by implanting a fresh piece of tumor specimen from a patient into a special type of mouse to act as hosts to allow the tumor to grow and maintain features similar to the original human tumor. Researchers can use PDX models to study tumor growth, response to anti-cancer therapies, and resistance to anti-cancer therapies.

“This innovative study will bring new models to study ROS1 in order to define the best treatments for patients with ROS1-positive tumors,” according to Christine M. Lovly, MD, PhD, a lung cancer physician-scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., which is a member of the ALCMI research consortium. “I am thrilled to be part of this groundbreaking study, which has been spearheaded by patients and involves a deep collaboration among the patients, health care providers, ALCMI, and Champions Oncology.”

The FDA approved the first ROS1 targeted therapy, crizotinib, in 2016. There are no FDA-approved treatments for patients whose disease progresses after treatment with crizotinib. ALCMI is focusing on this under-studied rare subset of cancer to understand how cancer begins and spreads in these tumors, how these tumors respond to treatment, and what happens when tumors stop responding to treatment.

ROS1-positive patients from North America may now participate in this study, and other countries will soon follow,” said Steven Young, ALCMI President/COO. “The enrollment methods developed by ALCMI from our previous successful research studies allow for participation by patients wherever they reside, coupled with strategically placed Champions' facilities presently in the U.S., Canada, U.K., and Israel.”

Unique aspects of this study include the creation of new and critically needed drug development tools, in partnership with ROS1-positive cancer patients across multiple forms of cancer and directly facilitated by a lung cancer patient-founded global non-profit research consortium with a motivated biotech industry partner. Even more importantly, the resultant animal models will be broadly shared to help researchers understand both the response and the all too often acquired resistance of ROS1 cancer to drug treatments, and accelerate new therapies to patients.

To participate in the study or for more information, go to www.alcmi.net/ROS1PDXstudy.

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Send information on career developments and cancer center news for this column to pam.tarapchak@wolterskluwer.com

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